The ancient method of preserving the dead associated with Egypt has evolved over the years. Usually, it is the menacing figure of the mummy wrapped in bandages that has touched popular culture in ways that range from horror flicks to childhood Halloween costumes. To get to know a little more about this intriguing ancient technique, consider the following facts:
The first mummies in Egypt did not involve the process of bandages, as natural preservation was the method of choice. The deceased were buried in the desert sands, which allowed desiccation (also known as drying out) to take place. The bodily fluids of the corpse would seep out into the sand and the leftover remains would dry out in a natural process. This would include the hair, skin, tendons, and ligaments. Additional ways that bodies were preserved in other parts of the world including sunlight, smokes, fire, peat bogs, ice, and various types of mud and soil.
Ancient Egyptians held the belief that in order to enjoy the afterlife, the body of the deceased should carry on as much of their living features as possible. The practice of molded linen bandages and decorating with paint allowed the features of the face to remain intact. It has been discovered that even the male sex organs or the nipples of a woman have been modeled in cloth and situated in the right positions so that the body would display a complete appearance for when it traveled in the afterlife.
As the Egyptians moved further from burying their dead in the desert, graves became the latest elaborate method of honoring the deceased. This all started as the ancients found out that bodies started to decay in the sands. They could not tolerate this act, as this was not what they intended to happen. This is when they decided to find other methods on how to preserve the body that did not produce the same results as the sand graves.
By the time the first dynasty rolled around, evidence of natron was uncovered. This natural salt was located in Egypt and was seen as a way to cover the body, which emulated the heat and dryness of the desert sands. It is believed that this substance began the process of desiccation. But, the use of natron alone was not enough, as decomposition was eventual, as the internal organs made sure of this.
The next phase of mummification was evisceration, which means to disembowel. The ancient Egyptians began to completely remove the internal organs so the moisture they held would not lead to the rotting of the insides of the corpse.
Interestingly, removing the brain was accomplished by using a pick that was inserted through the nose. The only organ left behind was the heart, as the ancient Egyptians believed that this was the keeper of the soul. The removed body organs were wrapped in linen, drenched in resin, and set aside. Sometimes, the organs were kept in a recess, but as later dynasties emerged, they would find a place in four canopic jars. This act was to make sure the body was still intact as a whole when it entered the afterlife.